Meet Nasim Alikhani

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Nasim founded Sofreh, a Persian restaurant in Brooklyn, at the age of 59. She has loved food since her childhood in Iran, which she left in 1983 after the two-year university shutdown following the revolution.
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Dress, Paracelso ; Jewelry, Jill Planter

Dress, Paracelso ; Jewelry, Jill Planter

ON HER MORNING ROUTINE

I wake up at 6:30am and have some coffee and fruit. I take Nature Made’s vitamin D , B complex and vitamin B12 and head to the swimming pool around 7:30. I used to meditate before work, but now I prefer to meditate with my prep team at Sofreh, followed by a team breakfast. 

on immigrating to the usa

I was in law school at Tehran University at the time of the revolution. After the two year university shutdown, I decided to leave Iran. I came to New York in 1983 on a student visa. At that time there was no diplomatic relationship between Iran and the United States, so there was no way for me to receive money and no one to rely on. I worked all kinds of jobs— babysitting, waitressing, catering— just to make ends meet.

on her relationship with food

My love of food developed at a young age. I had such a sensitive sense of smell and taste that I simply wouldn’t eat the food if it wasn’t really good. Luckily, all the women in my family were great cooks. Food was our means of getting together: our whole family would spend Friday’s at my grandfather’s house and everyone would cook something delicious. I have fond memories of those days - I’d spend summers helping my mother pickling, jamming and preserving.

on her first big break

One of my odd jobs during my college years in New York was managing a copy shop. The owner took notice of me and offered me a partnership in a new location he was opening. I mentioned this to my then boyfriend (and current husband), and he ran the numbers and suggested we open the business together instead. That’s how I ended up running my own copy/print shop five years after arriving in New York. Opening the copy store was the beginning of my financial stability.

Nasim’s favorite books

Nasim’s favorite books

“I have always loved exploring new challenges in both my personal and professional life. I opened Sofreh confident that I had the life experience to make it work, but I found myself utterly unprepared. My biggest challenge has been to let go of preconceived ideas and learn to trust the process. Another challenge has been relying on a team, rather than just myself. Initially this was scary, but I learned to keep working even when things didn’t go as planned. I had to learn how to stop being a perfectionist and how to be patient and accept that certain things are out of your control.”
— on her personal challenges with opening sofreh

on why she opened a restaurant at the age of 59

While I have had many different careers and education, I never found joy in any of them. Food and cooking have always been where I found relaxation and joy. I would often mention to friends that I wanted to open a restaurant, but once I got pregnant with twins (who are now 24 years old), I put that dream on the back-burner. Only once they started middle school did I begin to truly focus and work on this dream.

I love to travel and often planned trips around discovering amazing restaurants. Being exposed to great food around the world made me wonder why there was no good representation of Persian cuisine. I thought Persian cuisine could carve out a unique space in the food world and wanted to introduce it to a wider audience. 

I am so glad I didn’t open Sofreh when I was young. I’ve since evolved as a person and so have my ideas about the restaurant. I didn’t have the conviction and the mental strength or stability that I now have, plus years of accumulating knowledge and continuously testing my recipes.

I was often frustrated during the construction of the restaurant, which took 6 and a half years due to all kinds of permit issues, but looking back I have no regrets. It happened when it had to happen. One thing I’m grateful for is that I never stopped dreaming and working towards my dream.

on how she hopes to share her culture

More than ever, I am disappointed and upset about the recent political climate. Not only for my people or the people who have been singled out by the travel ban, but for for all the human rights violations being enacted under Trump’s presidency.  

Iran and its people have been dehumanized for nearly forty years. The harsh sanctions are hurting people’s lives in Iran on a daily basis. I think food can definitely have a political message. By sharing my country’s food, I can show one aspect of our beautiful culture and bring a human face to my immediate community.

Jewelry, Jill Platner

Jewelry, Jill Platner

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“Any time I’m upset, cooking is what grounds me. Sharing food is the best way I know to express myself and give love and this is my biggest motivation. In my 20’s, working hard to survive was my sole motivation. I didn’t have time to contemplate what inspired me. Now I have the luxury of doing what I love every day. On a personal and professional level, I am inspired to grow and become a better person and cook/restauranteur.”
— on her inspirations and motivations
Dress, Paracelso

Dress, Paracelso

on her favorite ingredients and most-used utensils

Kitchen essentials for me are rosewater, saffron, turmeric, rice, olive oil, onions , eggs, lentil, lemons and fresh homemade yogurt. A good knife, a bamboo cutting board by Brevill, good quality sets of pots with different sized lids, Lodge Chef cast iron pan, an OXO salad spinner, and an OXO cheese grater.

on her favorite dishes

Slow braised turmeric saffron chicken, rice with lentils (called ‘Polo Adas’ in Farsi), tiny meatballs with saffron broth. Smoked eggplant, spinach and other kinds of vegetables with eggs. I love making dips with all kinds of vegetables and yogurt, or ‘Borani’ in Farsi (yogurt spinach, yogurt cucumber, yogurt eggplant).

on her style

I like comfortable clothes that have a sense of architectural design and structural components. I used to have alert for sales at Barneys warehouse and a few shops in Soho but I generally like Japanese designers’ sense of fashion and always look to find eclectic and timeless pieces. I like Zero Maria Cornejo for their minimalist fashion, and also Paracelso. The place looks chaotic, but if one has patience you can find really unique items. I think everyone should visit the jewelry store Jill Platner, even if you don’t buy anything.

on her beauty routine

I have a very minimal beauty routine. Before going to sleep I clean my face with rosewater (the few times I remember) followed by Roc’s night cream. I use a lot of moisturizer with SPF after swimming during the day (Roc’s daily moisturizer with SPF 30). The rosewater usage comes from my grandmother— when I was little, every time I ran to her or kissed her, she smelled like rosewater. I don’t use much makeup but my favorite lipstick is Sephora red.

I’ve been putting natural Henna on my hair as a leave-in treatment for strength and shine ever since I moved to New York. As a bonus, wow that I have silver hair, it covers grays and gives my hair a nice red tone.

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on her self-care rituals

I love running, dancing, swimming, and meditating. I also love gardening and walking my dog. Cleaning the house is also a ritual of mine that always makes me feel calm. My time is limited now, but I still try to do most of these things daily, if possible, and if not, as much as I can.

on her favorite podcasts

I listen to various WNYC podcasts. They were my companion during marathon trainings and now at Sofreh. My absolute favorites are Snap Judgment, Death, Sex & Money, Moth Radio, Radiolab, The New Yorker Radio Hour.

nasim’s favorite books

The Treasured Writings of Kahlil Gibran by Kahlil Gibran is a large book with many of his works. I keep it next to my bed and I find myself going through it for inspiration, reflection, relaxation. I also love reading cookbooks, Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij, Vegetables Unleashed by Jose Andres & Matt Goulding, and Feast by Anissa Helou. I used to buy them until I ran out of space. I would also recommend Pouran Jinchi by Maryam Ekhtiar and To Seven Houses Away by Saber Abar.

nasim’s favorite films

Where is the Friend's home? By Abbas Kiarostami, A Separation by Asgard Farhadi, The Circle by Jafar Panahi, Persepolis by Marjan Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud

nasim’s favorite spots in nyc

I love walking on The Highline early in the morning before anyone else is there. I also love eating or getting coffee at Chelsea Market Ninth Street Espresso. Whitney Museum is also close by. My favorite foot massage place is on 8th Street, it is called Shun Fa. They are open 7 days a week from 10:30-11:30pm and I get myself there as often as I can, especially now that I am on my feet 10-12 hrs a day. Bond No 9 is my favorite perfume store, but it has been a long time since I’ve been there. My favorite restaurant is still Estela on Houston, but I also like Atla for a light dinner. My favorite place to watch movies is Angelika Film Center on Houston St.

Dress, Paracelso ; Jewelry, Jill Platner

Dress, Paracelso ; Jewelry, Jill Platner